Sunday, August 13, 2006

THE DVD BEAT: Prison Break - Season 1

To be honest, I didn't watch "Prison Break" during the regular season, because I thought it sounded ridiculous. Michael Scofield's (Wentworth Miller) brother, Lincoln has been put on Death Row for the murder of the Vice President's brother. Scofield believes his brothers innocence, and being an engineer working for the company that was responsible for the upgrades on the prison, Fox River Penitentiary, that his brother is holed up, he comes up with a plan to get him out. His plan his to hold-up a bank so he can get in the prison and help Lincoln, with the help of other inmates he has done research on, escape. But it doesn't stop there. Scofield has the blueprints of the prison tatooed on his upper body, hidden underneath a lot of patterns in the artwork, so they have a map to help them with their escape.

After watching the first season of this popular show this past week, I have decided that I was right. This show is ridiculous, but that is also one of its charms. I'm not sure "Prison Break" will ever go down as one of the best shows on television. It doesn't even hold a candle to its most obvious predecessor, "24." However, "Prison Break" is one of the most entertaining shows to come out in a long time, and with its cliffhanger endings at the end of each episode, it is also one of the most addictive. One of the great things about TV on DVD are shows like this. Where you can just keep watching each episode back to back until the season finale. You don't have to wait week to week, or in the case of this show's first season take a three month sabattical from it which ticked off a lot of fans. I could see why after watching the last episode before that leave of abscence. With that kind of cliffhanger, I would have been screaming "What the fuck" as Fox announced it wouldn't be back until March. And since I'll be watching it as it airs in a couple of weeks when the second season premiers, I get to join this legion of fans as we digress over it week to week wanting to know what the hell happened.

The show's writing should be commended for creating such a great cast of characters to surround Michael and Lincoln. The inmates that end up tagging along are a well developed group of misfits. We've got the old man river, Charles Westmoreland (Muse Watson, the hook man from the first two "I Know What You Did Last Summer" films), who in one of the more intriguing mysteries, may or may not be the legendary D.B. Cooper. This is a plot point that could fail miserably by incorporating real life people into this type of scenario, but actually gives the plot a lot more realism than it deserves. John Abruzzi (The always excellent Peter Stomare) is the guy with the Mob connections who can get them the plane when they're on the outside to get them out of the country. Michael's cell mate, Fernando Sucre (Amaury Nolasco) is a non-stereotyped Puerto Rican inmate who got busted robbing a store so he could buy his girl a wedding ring, gets to be in on the action by default; can't really dig in your cell if your roommate isn't involved. Our creepy, child killer (You knew there had to be one) is Theodore "T-Bag" Bagwell (Robert Knepper) gets to be involved due to his finding out the plan, and threatning to rat them out. Rounding up the main group is Benjamin Miles Franklin (Rockman Dunbar) who after being dishonarable discharged from the military got busted driving a van with illegal cargo. He is the one who gets you whatever you want inside, and due to his help is invited along; like Bagwell, though, he also threatens to rat them out. Watching this group from week-to-week with all of their double crossing, and in-the-dark interactions make for a fun time. All of the acting here is excellent, and helps give this one of the best ensemble casts on television right now.

The non-prisoners are given a lot of great scenery to chew on as well. A lot of veteran actors like Stacy Keach as the Prison Warden, Pope, and Patricia Wettig, as the Vice President are well casted roles that lesser actors would've been less than stellar. Robin Tunney is also good as Lincoln's former girlfriend and present lawyer trying to help him out on the outside, hopefully before they try to escape and get themselves into more trouble. Sarah Wayne Callies is a fresh and very beautiful face added into the mix; she plays the prison doctor, Dr. Sara Tancredi, who is also the Governor's daughter (The show takes place outside of Chicago), and is a promising actress to watch out for in the future. One of my favorite characters, however, as the season progressed became Captain Brad Bellick (character actor, Wade Williams). He's the Pope's right hand man, and while at times seeming to just be the typical abusive CO, Williams balances the character with just enough charm to make it work and seem fresh.

I know I just did two long paragraphs that amounted to a cast list, but the acting is so good on this show, it's hard to leave anyone out. And just so you know, I could've mentioned about 12 other people that are just as intriguing and memorable, but have lesser roles.

The setting also works in favor for the show. Instead of using soundstages they decided to use the infamous, Joliet Correctional Facility, that was shut down after 135 years of use in 2002. This, along with the strong writing, gives the show a sense of realism that makes all of the asinine stuff, like the tattoo, look almost realistic. There is a real sense of claustrophobia when they are in this place. The prison becomes a pretty major character on the show, and gives it a creepiness that is really hard to shake off at times. Which makes me wonder if the show will lose some of its momentum when they are on the outside in the second season.

I'm really curious to see where this show is going to lead now that some of them are out. The cliffhanger leads you to believe that a couple are going to be going back in pretty quickly. However, the conspiracy storyline that revolves around who really was involved in Lincoln's frame-up is not great, but is good enough to keep the story moving along. And I'm sure it's a lot deeper than we even realize. It's hard for me to go into specifics since if you haven't seen the show, I would like you to be surprised when you do. But they throw a lot of twists and turns at you week in and week out, and most of them stick.

The other thing I thought I would mention is that everything I read, including Chris's T.V. round-up a couple of months ago, is that the season's second half had a bit of a faltering effect. I actually found it to be the opposite. I thought the second half was when the show really kicked into gear. At that point I was so invested in all of these characters and what was going on that all of the close-calls and plot holes didn't really seem to bother me; they just kind of washed over me like they do on "24." The fact is you can't develop a show like this without having to deal with some inconsistencies to get your characters where they need to go. And "Prison Break," overall manages to avoid most loopholes and proves to be an entertaining ride in the process. If you haven't seen this yet, check it out; you've still got a week till the next season starts. It's well worth the 34 bones or so that it'll cost you to own.


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